At the beginning of May, industry analyst IDC announced that Samsung had taken over the pole position in the West European cell phone market, after a many-year reign by Nokia. The South Korean manufacturer has recorded a 5% rise in that region compared to last year, attaining a 29% market share, while Nokia sales dropped by 10%, to a 28% market share.
Despite this historic turn-around, which was surely deemed impossible a year or two ago in the region of Nokia’s origin, both IDC and its rival Gartner believe that Europeans will restore their faith in Finnish cell phones due to the excellent alliance Nokia signed with Microsoft in February. What is more, both analytical companies are prone to believe that Microsoft’s Windows Phone will have become a more popular platform than Apple’s iOS in Western Europe by 2015 because Nokia has decided to use Microsoft’s operating system in most of its future smartphones.
These predictions yield two serious considerations, which will surely influence the further development of the smartphone market, not only in Europe, but the entire world. The first is becoming more and more obvious in recent months: when it comes to choosing a cell phone, the operating system has overpowered the device maker. This has happened to such an extent that even analysts find it more interesting to see whether iOS, Windows Phone or Android OS will win the smartphone war rather than who will be the market leader: Apple, Samsung or Nokia.
The second one is a bit less apparent: it seems that Samsung, HTC and Apple, as well as other manufacturers which are currently experiencing an impressive market rise, still have reasons to fear Nokia.
The Times They Are a Changin’
Cell phones have been perceived by their brand for years. In Europe, Nokia has generally offered more prestigious models, Sony Ericsson launched youthful devices, businessmen expressed their style with BlackBerry, while South Korean devices (Samsung, LG) were mostly seen as elementary, intended for a more frugal type of customer.
That has all changed. More recently, the market for smartphones — cell phones which can fully adjust to the users’ needs by adding numerous third-party apps — has strengthened. As a result, things have entirely turned around and this type of device is now seen through the platform prism, or the operating system with which they function with.
Today, it’s not prestigious to own a Nokia, but an iPhone or a cool smartphone with Android. Similarly, owning a Samsung device does not mean having an elementary or “cheap” cell phone at all — it is possibly a top model, like the Galaxy S, convincingly the best-selling Android phone, which has enjoyed over 10 million sales across the world. Or its successor, Galaxy S II, which has recorded impressive 3 million pre-orders.
Apple is solely credited for such a twist. It turned the consumer segment of the telecommunications market upside down with the launch of first iPhone. The iPhone was the first cell phone which was fully adjusted to the users and not carriers, as it had a new type of operating system and user interface fitted for natural hand movements.
Instead of users adjusting to the carriers’ offers, as the case was with all other phones, carriers had to adjust to the consumers’ preferences with the iPhone. When Google and Microsoft envisioned their competitors to Apple’s platform and offered them to other phone manufacturers, the entire market adjusted to the user.
It’s a Different World
A smartphone is as normal to see as a laptop today, and there are many types. The companies offering them are raking in billions, something which was reserved for computers not too long ago. Some companies adapted quickly to these changed circumstances, but it seems that it was most difficult for Nokia to find its bearings in such a turned-around market.
Stubbornly insisting on using the dated Symbian and intangible and the never finished MeeGo operating system led Nokia to the bring of doom. Although at this point it is still first on the manufacturers’ list, ranked according to the number of units sold throughout the world, Nokia has recorded a plunge from its former eminence, and to many seemed it would end in a hard crash against the ground, with the European throne handed over to Samsung.
Not so — Nokia is an international techno-giant and far too serious and big to allow such a thing. Obstinacy was dealt with in September of last year, as Anssi Vanjoki was ousted and Stephen Elop was appointed to the head position at the company. Elop came from Microsoft, and it was clear even back then that sooner or later these two companies would do what is logical — join forces strategically and become one of the most important tandems on the telecommunications market.
A Whole New Ballgame
With just one announcement to confirm the partnership, Nokia got back in the game, and the all the rankings in the mobile communications arena are now open to change again. The Finnish giant is working with the goliath from Redmond to devlop serious competition for Google and Apple.
Consumers all across the world are wondering what Nokia’s first smartphone with the Windows Phone operating system will look like, and Microsoft’s and Nokia’s rivals have a reason to worry because of this vast curiosity — just like Apple’s rivals had a reason to worry back in 2007 while the first iPhone was being awaited with the same amount of curiosity.
After its launch, Windows Phone has received excellent reviews from early users, especially in Europe. The Old continent users love the design, elegance, modern feel and functionality of this platform for advanced cell phones — nobody had expected Microsoft would make such a modern software. Despite a lot of room for touch-ups, for which the Windows Phone is (still) not on as functional as the Android OS and iOS, it is seen as a far more up-to-date platform than the other two.
For Europeans, Windows Phone is to the Android OS and iOS what Android OS and iOS are to Symbian.
Thanks to its mistakes in the last few years, Nokia has lost a great deal, but not European’s trust in the hardware quality, credibility and endurance of its devices. Google, Apple, HTC, Samsung, LG and others will have to respond swiftly and efficiently to the smartphones Nokia is going to release soon, because something that might be called Nokia N9 with Windows Phone seems like a more delicious treat than those other company’s existing models, and many Europeans will find it hard to resist. This is what IDC and Gartner base their predictions on for 2015.
About Dragan Petric
For the last fifteen years, Dragan Petric (www.draganpetric.com) has been working as an IT journalist, editor and analyst, with special interests in telecommunication technologies and services. In addition, he authored five books and published over 2,500 articles in many magazines and newspapers in Europe. He has attended about 30 telecommunications and IT congresses around the world and won several journalists awards for his work.